Building confidence through peer-to-peer learning

Taking a renewed approach to field trial delivery by integrating peer-to-peer learning and collaboration, is key to increasing confidence in regenerative agriculture, believes NIAB’s Dr Joe Martlew. Dr Martlew is a Research Agronomist with a background in both soil science and agronomy. His current interests include investigating how farm management approaches can be brought together into farming systems, to increase the sustainability and resilience of food production.

“The purpose of my role is to translate science into practice, but for this to be successful, translation needs to flow both ways. This is because as researchers, we don’t have all of the answers, especially when it comes to the regenerative agriculture space. Unlike a conventional input trial, answering what can be basic questions in farming systems research can prove quite complex.

This is where peer-to-peer learning becomes invaluable. Regenerative agriculture is so nuanced and individual, it’s no longer a case of only running replicated trials with set variables and expecting the results to be broadly applicable. Building networks and establishing demonstration sites is essential in effectively communicating the principles, so that producers can apply them to their own farming systems. Advice needs to be trusted and value placed on knowledge.

Institutes such as NIAB continue to offer a broad range of research work alongside integrating knowledge exchange delivery from this alternative perspective. In some ways, this has been a step-change for trials teams but is ultimately a worthwhile service to offer as a trusted provider. For NIAB, our members are driving this shift and providing a feedback loop to help steer future work.

Working alongside large arable and horticultural growers, those operating in more conventional spaces, as well as progressive farmers is important to provide balance. Collaborating across a wide variety of events, including Cereals and Groundswell, helps to engage across the agricultural sector. Of course, ensuring field trials are immediately relevant but also future-proof is a fine balance.

An example of this is how to make potatoes work within a regenerative system – how do we future-proof this crop and continue to make it viable? Here it may be about applying research to find that workable mid-point between profitability and sustainability, rather than settling for a narrow set of management practices.

It’s about taking a systems approach to R&D, being supply chain driven and acknowledging the gaps in data. Plus including peer-to-peer engagement at the core of applied research, as discussed earlier.

Importantly, we need to encourage benchmarking to measure gradual changes, so farmers can see growth for themselves. This will play a vital role in improving confidence in the changes they are making.

Ultimately, we should engage with growers and encourage them to look critically at their farming systems. Through effective knowledge transfer and expertise sharing, progress can be made towards farm goals.”

NIAB is one of CHAP’s partners, home of the Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory. To learn more, visit here.

CHAP aims to build networks of leading scientists, farmers, advisors, businesses, and academia to understand industry priorities and develop innovative solutions. To be our next guest contributor, e-mail enquiries@chap-solutions.co.uk

Please note, the opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of CHAP.